I’m delighted to welcome the warm, kind, hard-working and talented author Teena Raffa-Mulligan as the latest guest on my blog today. Teena is taking part in the Books on Tour series, through Just Write for Kids, and is revisiting my blog after being an early guest on my Shelf Aware series last year (you can read her post here). Teena is the first author I ever interviewed — way back in the days when I was a cadet journalist — and 30+ years later I remain in awe of her energy, the breadth of her talent, and her commitment to writing and other writers. I also feel incredibly proud that we have a publisher and an illustrator in common.
Through Books on Tour, Teena is sharing the story behind the re-release of her charming, whimsical and beautiful children’s picture book Who Dresses God? (which she self-published through Novella Distribution), and you can find her other guest appearances via the links at the bottom of this interview. For now, I’m sure you’ll enjoy her answers to my questions…
Q. Teena, can you tell me a little bit about how you came to write Who Dresses God?
A. Our younger daughter, who was about three at the time, was tucked into bed with me for a story before her afternoon nap when she asked that question. It turned out that during a recent visit with my parents, Mum had told her God knew everything about us and could see, hear and speak without eyes, ears or tongue. This had obviously given Ariane something to think about and she took it one step further: she had someone to look after her, so God must have someone who looked after Him too. We weren’t a religious family, didn’t read the Bible or go to Church, however I had grown up being exposed to frequent kitchen table discussions about the deeper meaning of life and was always encouraged to question everything I thought I knew. I’d carried this approach through with my own children, so I answered her the best I could and thought no more about it. I had no intention of writing a picture book on the subject but a few days later the story popped into my mind fully formed and I wrote it down. There was no effort involved; it was one of those rare gifts that sometimes arrive in a writer’s life – a poem, scene or chapter that feels almost as if it wrote itself and all you did was take dictation. If only writing were always so easy!
Q. Who are your target readers for this book?
A. Children who are asking questions about God, the life we live and this world we share.
Q. What can you tell me about the illustrator and illustrations?
A. Veronica Rooke is my talented neighbourhood illustrator. For the past 12 years we’ve lived in the same street, which is really convenient. She encourages me to pursue my someday dream of being an artist, and I encourage her to write her own stories, because she has the potential to be a wonderful author/illustrator. Veronica has illustrated my two self-published picture books, plus my picture book, Friends, for small independent WA publisher Serenity Press. I also call on her whenever I need a book cover. I usually hand over my manuscript and say, “See what you come up with for this” — and I’m never disappointed. Veronica brings her own brand of humour to appropriate stories, is versatile when it comes to style, and is a pleasure to work with because she offers creative suggestions and listens to feedback.
Creating the illustrations for Who Dresses God? presented some specific challenges because of the nature of the story. I didn’t have a clear idea of how it could be done but I did know I wanted a style that suited the gentle mood of the story. As always, Veronica came up with exactly what I wanted, even though I hadn’t known it at the time. The front cover was a surprise because I expected something conventional such as a little girl dancing about in a field of flowers with butterflies and birds. The minute I saw the dog tugging clothes off the clothes line, I loved it.
“…For God’s house is this world we share, and God is in it everywhere.” — Who Dresses God? by Teena Raffa-Mulligan
Q. When was the book originally published and how did you come to have it re-published?
A. The book was originally published in 2012. A couple of years ago the company offered all its authors the opportunity to take over the publishing of their own books and I accepted because I wanted to see if I could take this story to a wider readership. Initially I hadn’t done anything to promote Who Dresses God? I didn’t talk about it or read it during school visits due to my concern some parents might be upset if its content was in conflict with their own spiritual beliefs.
Q. What sort of reactions have you had from young readers of this beautiful book?
A. I’ve been told by parents that the book is a favourite with their children. Most of the response has come from adults, who have welcomed the way it explains a complex subject in a way young children can understand.
Q. Why is it important to you that children have their questions answered?
A. Children come into this world with such a wonderful natural curiosity and in their earliest years they see everything without the filter of past experience. Answering their questions as they arise, being willing to share their wonder at the world in which they find themselves, nurtures an enthusiasm for learning that will stay with them throughout their lives. Shut down that questioning impulse in a young child and you limit their potential to explore who they are. It also has a knock on effect, because it can influence the way they will relate to their own children if they become parents.
Q. How many other books have you had published? For what age groups? And in which genres?
A. I’ve had 16 children’s books published, ranging from picture books and short chapter books to middle grade novels. Many of my poems and short stories for children have also been published in magazines and anthologies.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the other work you do relating to writing and reading?
A. Apart from family time, my life revolves around reading and writing. I can’t imagine living without stories. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about stories; proofing or editing other writers’ manuscripts; running writing sessions; reading about how to improve my writing, marketing and publishing skills; attending writing events; and catching up with writer friends. I read every day – an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. If I’ve had a productive morning and ticked the most important things off my To Do list, I reward myself after lunch with reading time before getting back to the business of being a writer. Sometimes – well, often – if it’s a page turner, the rest of the day will be given over to finding out what happens next.
I’m coordinator of Rockingham Writers Centre, so that involves organising our workshop and groups program, plus being co-organiser of our major annual event, a one-day convention that features an interstate agent and publisher and a program of workshops presented by leading West Australian authors. I love being involved in supporting other authors in this way.
Q. Finally, what are you working on now?
A. I’ve put together a collection of my poems for children called Sleepy Socks & Sometime Rhymes ready for release in February and that’s at the proofreading stage. I’m planning to follow it up later in the year with a collection of my short stories for children that I’ve tentatively called Oops! so that’s at layout stage and I need to organise a cover design for it. On the writing front, I’m midway through a novel about a kid who hires a parent tamer and it doesn’t have the hoped for results. I keep putting it on hold while I play publisher.
Find out more about the Books on Tour blog series on the links below:
Monday Dec 10 – Friday Dec 14 – www.justkidslit.com/blog
Monday Dec 10 – blog.boomerangbooks.com.au
Tuesday Dec 11 – www.educateeempower.com.au
Wednesday Dec 12 – www.readforfun.com.au